File photo of the Lismore Base Hospital.
File photo of the Lismore Base Hospital. Marc Stapelberg

Northern NSW health district ‘scrooge’ on Christmas staff

SENIOR management at the Northern NSW Local Health District have been labelled Christmas "scrooges" after low staffing levels at Ballina and Lismore Hospitals left staff scrambling.

A hospital staff member, who asked not to be named, said nursing staff were forced to take leave and a ward in the Lismore Base Hospital was closed during the busiest time of the year.

"After forcing the nurses to take leave, so they wouldn't get any shifts over Xmas, we had a major influx of patients needing care," the staff member said.

"The same management then tried to bully the nursing staff into returning, after planning their Christmas break.

"Most told management to stick it, although being nurses and worried for the patient, most gave up what they planned and returned."

But the Health District has said closing a Base Hospital ward during over Christmas and New Year is an annual occurrence aimed at taking advantage of the seasonal decrease in patient demand.

"This enables the LBH to approve staff requests for annual leave to spend time with their family," Acting Chief Executive Annette Symes said in a statement.

"Every year the LBH also uses the ward closure as an opportunity to refurbish the closed ward with new paint and floor coverings."

The staff member also claims patients were moved to smaller hospitals in the health district, resulting in overcrowding at other wards, where nurse numbers have been reduced.

"To make matters worse again Ballina Hospital had no doctor on Christmas night," the staff member said.

"In the last three years Northern Rivers Hospital management had more than doubled, yet every other service has been cut to the bone.

"We can afford expensive going away parties at the Ballina Resort for our retiring boss, but not services to the people!"

Ms Symes said patients are routinely transferred to other hospitals for a number of reasons.

"Most often it is due to the patient no longer requiring the higher level care provided at LBH. This practice occurs all year, and is not unique to the Christmas/New Year period."

Ms Symes acknowledged that the Ballina District Hospital did not have an on-site doctor in the Emergency Department between 1am and 7am on Christmas night, but said an on-call doctor was available for emergency patients.

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